Postcard From the Top of the Earth

10/02/2007 03:23 pm ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

So I'm sitting in the rolling and pitching cabin of a 100-year old Dutch schooner, somewhere well above the Arctic Circle, with no land for (literal) days in any direction, tapping out a prospective blog post that'll someway, somehow find it's way, via satellite phone, an intermediary switchboard, and your local internet provider, to your monitor.

But the important bit of this story isn't that we're sailing 750-plus miles in a creaking (if handsome) schooner. Nor that our local "arctic expert," Ko (real name, real badass), only came out of retirement as a guide for this trip because he felt like this would be a "real adventure," and that "it will be interesting to see how this little ship makes across the ocean." (Project the saltiest Dutch accent you can imagine here.)

Rather the important bit is who I'm with and where we're heading. This trip is part of the Cape Farewell project, a campaign designed to raise awareness about climate change by putting scientists and artists together on a boat -- the aforementioned schooner, the Noorderlicht -- and sailing to, quite literally, the frontlines of climate change, areas where the evidence of a warming world is empirical. The idea here is that scientists, for all the crucial data they provide in the field of climate change, haven't done the most outstanding job communicating the importance of the issue. Meanwhile, artists, as society's most creative communicators, are particularly well suited for speaking to the public. So Cape Farewell puts the two together on a boat (along with a handful of media reps, including this correspondent), with the hope that the artists will take some inspiration from both the setting, and the live science taking place onboard. (We'll be conducting some potentially valuable tests of the robustness of some North Atlantic currents -- essentially extensions of the Gulf Stream that keeps Northern Europe habitable.)

In years past, Cape Farewell has explored areas up around Svalbard, the mysterious grouping of islands about 500 miles north of Scandanavia. Our voyage too began on the Svalbard island of Spitsbergen, but from there we're sailing (now 2 days out) west, across the Greenland Sea, to the Northeast coast of Greenland-specifically Scoresby Sund, the largest fjord in the world. Now here's the crucial bit: The Northeast coast of Greenland is where arctic ice still stretches furthest south. Sort of the last stronghold of the arctic icecap. This summer, our planet's frozen lid has shrunk to a historic low (for human history, at least), and is a full 25-percent smaller than it was before we humans started pumping the atmosphere full of greenhouse gasses. But off the coast of Northeastern Greenland, there endures a long tongue of sea ice, formed further north in the arctic ocean and pushed down the coast by strong northerly winds. Yet even this arm has been shrinking over recent years, and over just the past five it's been breaking up to open water in the late summer, leaving Scoresby Sund accessible from the open ocean. A decade ago, it would've been more or less unthinkable to access the mouth of Scoresby Sund or the Liverpool coast (just north). But that's where we're heading.

The sea cap itself isn't the only vulnerable ice. Already in Spitsbergen, where we began the journey, Ko lead us to a glacier that he had visited 17 years earlier. In under two decades since he last saw it, the ice had receded about five kilometers. That's significant melt.

So we're here to experience what's happening firsthand, with hopes that the scientists will produce some research to help understand the issue, and that the artists onboard will help to communicate it. It should be quite the adventure.

Now I'd love to say that I'll send along more transmissions from this melting north, but as communication is rather tricky, I'd encourage you to check out the expedition's site, which we do manage to update daily. There's also an RSS feed where you can follow all our collective blog posts and check out photos. I will promise an update whenever possible. Best wishes from the top of the earth.